Conception Bay Newfoundland
(inc. 1964; pop. 1976, 912). Because of its proximity to Cupids qv it is likely that the harbour of Brigus was chosen as a site for settlement during the period of the establishment of the Cupids colony. Several etymologies of the name Brigus have been proposed including ``Bridge'' or ``Brick house,'' from a Huddersfield residence in Yorkshire, ``Brigue'' meaning intrigue (from Abbe Baudoin) and ``Brig Harbour'' (suggested by M.F. Howley: 1901). David Leamon (n.d.) noted two other, less likely, origins of the name: ``Briiges,'' after a town in Spain, and (P.K. Devine's suggestion) the name of a Castilian king. According to Harold Bartlett (1940), local tradition holds that the Spracklin family purchased half of the harbour at Brigus, extending from Battery Brook to the drawbridge, from John Guy qv about 1610. In 1675 the Berry Manuscript (C.O. 1:35) recorded that thirty-four people lived at Brigus harbour, where they had erected three fishing rooms. By 1677 the Poole Manuscript (C.O. 1:41; p. 157f) reported three families had established a total of five fishing rooms there and had begun to keep cattle and some pigs. In that season the community produced 580 quintals of fish.
In 1697 Abbe Baudoin reported in his journal that Brigus was ``a well established English settlement, where there were about sixty men.'' *Le Moyne d'lberville's qv forces, which were pillaging settlements in Conception Bay at the time, issued orders to prevent residents of Brigus from escaping to fortified Carbonear Island qv. After taking Port de Grave on January 23 d'Iberville demanded the surrender of Brigus and Carbonear Island. By the end of the month Brigus had submitted to surrender along with eight Irishmen whom, Baudoin noted, ``the English here treat as slaves.'' It is apparent from Baudoin's abstract census, reproduced by D.W. Prowse (1895), that Brigus was a prosperous fishing settlement. Baudoin estimated that 6,000 quintals (304 819 kg) of fish were caught by eleven crews who fished from Brigus in 1697. Brigus was again attacked by the French in January 1705 and was burned by Testard de Motigny's qv forces on their march around the Avalon Peninsula. Misfortune of this type does not appear to have had lasting effects on the community and by the early 1720s Stephen Percey established the first accounting house at the harbour to represent British supply companies. Leamon speculates that a William Percey was in possession of land at Brigus about 1687 and throughout the 1700s. According to Leamon, Azariah Munden replaced Stephen Percey as principal merchant at Brigus in 1760. Munden represented the firm of Gundryas (of Bridport) for several years before his death at Brigus in 1825.
From the beginning of the 1800s the prosecution of the seal hunt determined much of the growth and social evolution of the community although Brigus continued a successful cod fishery both in Newfoundland and Labrador. According to L.G. Chafe (1923) Brigus became a principal sealing base because ``The situation of the harbour, with wide mouth, its high lands and deep water right to the cliff gave the ice no chance to hold on when the westerly wind blew and therefore the craft found their way out much more easily than from other harbours in the bay.'' Such Brigus captains as Azariah Munden had prosecuted the seal hunt as early as 1768. Bartlett noted that Munden's crew took 10,000 seals at the hunt in 1798 and that Captain William Bartlett was sealing at Seal Island, Labrador in 1799.
Brigus, at the beginning of the 1800s, became famous for its numerous fishing and sealing vessels. In 1819 Captain William Munden built the first Newfoundland-made sealing schooner, weighing over 100 tons. The schooner, built at Brigus, was named the Four Brothers. In 1845 the population of Brigus and nearby Frogmarsh had grown to 1,582 people from 1,218 in 1836. Of the 140 boats at Brigus thirty-nine were sealing vessels.
The Rev. Charles Lench (1925?) noted that the seeds of Wesleyanism had been planted in Brigus by Rev. William Thoresby in January 1796. By 1803 a resident of Brigus, John Percey, was ordained as the first native born Methodist minister in Newfoundland. By 1845 Brigus had three schools, with an enrolment of two hundred and twenty-six students. The first school was started by clergyman and schoolmaster Percey and he was followed by schoolmaster J.N. Harris who established a school with the aid of the Society for the Propagation of the *Gospel qv at Brigus in 1821. The Roman Catholic Church also operated a school. That denomination had erected a church by 1832 and in 1861, St. Joseph's Convent. The convent is the oldest in Newfoundland outside St. John's. In 1870 St. George's Church of England Church was completed replacing an older structure that had been consecrated in 1845. Lench states that the first Methodist Church, opened at Brigus in 1807, was replaced by a new one.
Census returns for 1857 show that Brigus retained its prominence in sealing and the fishery, in that year operating 167 boats and thirty-eight sealing vessels. The population of Brigus was 1,975 by 1874 and in that year a total of 1,179 men took some 22,140 seals. In that year Brigus fishermen cured 1443 776 kg (28,419 quintals) of cod, with an overall value of $20,456.
According to Doug Lundrigan (1973) the seal hunt declined from 1868 to 1884 and this decline had a great effect on the community for the remainder of the century. Lundrigan notes that in 1868 the Brigus fleet consisted of twenty-seven ships (with a gross tonnage of 3,405 tons) and 1,751 men. In 1872 only fifteen ships prosecuted the seal hunt from Brigus. Lundrigan attributes the decline to the advent of steam-driven vessels and low prices for seals. From the late 1870s to 1884 fewer than twenty-five vessels voyaged to the hunt from Brigus.
The collapse of the seal hunt was partly the cause of an exodus of the population which by 1891, numbered only 1,541. One of the few visible reminders of the seal hunt at
Brigus is a tunnel which was blasted through solid rock and sandstone to the sea in 1883 by Cornish miner John Hoskins. Hoskins was contracted by the Bartlett family to build an unloading ramp for seals which allowed them access to the harbour through the cliff as harbour and wharf space were at a premium during the annual hunt.
Extensive surveys conducted by J.P. Howley in the 1880s located non-commercial gold finds in quartz veins and slate at Brigus. As early as 1868 slate exploration had been conducted at Brigus Head and, as a result, an unsuccessful attempt to quarry precambrian slate was made in the area by C.F. Bennett.
In 1901 the population of Brigus had decreased to 1,162 and many of the other traditional means of livelihood began to decline including the once prosperous Labrador fishery though many mariners continued to sail from Brigus, including Captains Robert A. and Samuel W. Bartlett qqv, who gained distinction for their part in such Arctic exploits as Admiral Peary's explorations. In 1912 United States artist Rockwell Kent kept a summer residence at Brigus. Kent was deported in 1916 accused of espionage activities against Newfoundland but he was later cleared of all charges. In 1921 Brigus's population was 936. There were seven vessels fishing from Brigus and seventeen small boats involved in the inshore fishery. With the onset of the Depression many communities of Conception Bay experienced hardship. The Brigus census figures for 1935 and 1945 indicate a stable population of about 885 people. In this period the community did basic garden farming and continued to prosecute the inshore fishery.
In an effort to provide alternate industry for the community a knitting mill was established at Brigus in 1953 to produce knit-wear for local and export markets. The mill was initially operated by an Austrian firm owned by Alphonse Eckhart but passed to the control of the Government of Newfoundland. The mill closed after 1956 because of inadequate markets. In November 1964 the community was incorporated and elected Fred Bartlett qv as Mayor of the first town council. In 1981 a substantial number of people were still employed in the inshore fishery and at a fish processing plant operated by J.W. Hiscock Sons Limited. There were three religious congregations in Brigus in 1981 (St. George's Anglican, a United Church, and St. Patrick's Parish, Roman Catholic and St. Joseph's Mercy Convent). There were also two Roman Catholic schools, St. Edward's Elementary and Bishop O'Neill College, and the integrated Brigus Academy.
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